Hello, everyone! Finnley the Dolphin here, diving into the depths of audio history on Finnley’s Audio Adventures. Today, we’re surfacing a special treasure from the past—the iconic “ONE-PLUS” radio spots for Southwestern Bell. Back when making a phone call was more of a strategic decision than a simple tap on a screen, these ads played a crucial role in educating folks on how to save money on long-distance calls by using the one-plus dialing method. Join me as we swim through the waves of telecommunication history and listen to how these clever spots made waves in the way people connected across distances.

Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, a pivotal branch within the grand AT&T empire, traces its origins back to 1882 with the establishment of The Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company. This company, together with other regional players, eventually formed the “Southwestern System” within the larger Bell System. By 1917, this consortium consolidated under the banner of Southwestern Bell, marking the birth of a major telecommunications entity. As an integral part of AT&T’s expansive network, Southwestern Bell embarked on a growth trajectory, absorbing multiple smaller telephone companies throughout the mid-20th century, such as the Southeast Missouri Telephone Company and the Southwest Telephone Company. This expansion not only increased its geographic footprint but also enhanced its service capabilities across several states.

The telecommunications landscape was set for a seismic shift with the landmark 1984 breakup of AT&T. This monumental legal and structural division, mandated by the U.S. government, dismantled AT&T’s monopoly in the telecommunications industry. Southwestern Bell was carved out as one of the seven Regional Bell Operating Companies, colloquially known as “Baby Bells.” This breakup fundamentally altered its operational focus; Southwestern Bell retained control over local services but was distanced from the long-distance and equipment leasing operations that were previously under the purview of AT&T.

Post-divestiture, Southwestern Bell found itself operating in a drastically altered market landscape where it had to navigate new regulatory environments and burgeoning competition. Despite these challenges, it managed to maintain a strong presence in its designated regions, providing crucial telecommunication services and adapting to the evolving demands of the market. The company’s adaptation to these changes was critical in maintaining its market position and setting the stage for future growth and development in the telecommunications sector.

This period of transformation was not just about structural change but also about technological evolution. As Southwestern Bell and its fellow Baby Bells ventured into the era of digital technology and mobile communications, they faced the dual challenges of regulatory compliance and the need to innovate. The 1984 breakup, while initially seen as a fragmentation of AT&T’s vast empire, ultimately served as a catalyst for innovation and competition in the telecommunications industry, paving the way for advancements that would reshape the way the world communicates.

Amidst this era of regulatory shifts and technological innovation, the fundamental mechanics of telecommunication continued to operate under the radar, yet critically underpinning every interaction. As Southwestern Bell navigated the new digital landscape, the traditional backbone of telecommunication—telephone switching—remained pivotal. This intricate system, often overlooked in discussions of telecom advancements, seamlessly facilitates both local and long-distance communication. By connecting millions of calls every day, switches and exchanges serve as the unsung heroes in the telecom industry, ensuring that every voice, whether calling across the street or across continents, is heard clearly and without interruption.

Telephone switching is the unsung hero behind every call you make, seamlessly connecting conversations across streets or continents. This system of local and long-distance communication runs on a complex network of switches and exchanges, each playing a crucial role in ensuring your voice reaches its destination. Imagine you’re calling a friend across town. Your call starts when you pick up the phone and dial their number. This number travels to the nearest local switch, a kind of electronic traffic controller for phone calls. If your friend lives within the same rate center—a specific geographic area designated for local calling—this local switch quickly identifies the destination as within reach.

If both you and your friend are served by the same central office, the switch directly connects your call, enabling your conversation within moments. If your friend is under a different central office but still within the same rate center, the call might travel through several interconnected switches within the local network. While these calls are mostly straightforward, there’s a notable caveat: not all local calls are toll-free.

In the early 1990s, I learned this the hard way when calling Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and ended up with huge phone bills. Even calls within the same area code and geographic region could incur long-distance charges if they crossed certain rate center boundaries. These were considered local long-distance calls. To avoid unexpected charges, the only reliable method was to consult the rate center prefixes listed in the front of the phone book—a practice now mostly forgotten in the digital age.

Now, let’s say you need to wish a relative happy birthday in another state. This call kicks off similarly but takes a more adventurous route. You dial “1” followed by their area code and number—a sequence signaling the network that you’re reaching beyond your local confines. Your local switch picks up this cue and passes your call to a more powerful player: a tandem switch or a long-distance network switch. These are like the high-speed highways of telephone calls, designed to handle the greater demands of routing calls across multiple geographic areas.

Operated by long-distance carriers—think of giants like AT&T or MCI—these switches evaluate the fastest and most efficient path to deliver your call across state lines. As your call zips through this network, it eventually reaches a local switch near your relative, much like exiting a highway near a small town. This local switch then dutifully delivers your call to your relative’s phone. The beauty of modern telecommunication is epitomized in the one-plus (1+) dialing system. Before its advent, initiating a long-distance call could be cumbersome, requiring a jumble of carrier-specific codes. The introduction of 1-plus dialing stripped away this complexity.

This era of telecommunications also saw the strategic use of the 555 prefix for both practical and cultural purposes. Traditionally, dialing NPA-555-1212 connected callers to directory assistance, providing a consistent and centralized service for obtaining telephone numbers before digital directories became prevalent. The introduction of the “One-Plus” system further simplified access to this service, allowing users to bypass the operator and directly seek directory assistance by dialing 1 followed by their local area code and 555-1212. Additionally, the 555 prefix was widely utilized in media as a go-to for fictitious phone numbers, thereby avoiding the inconvenience and potential harassment of real phone subscribers.

With just the prefix ‘1’, you can activate the long-distance routing system. This standardization brought a new ease to dialing long distances, akin to using a single key to start a car rather than fiddling with multiple switches. It’s a system designed for efficiency and ease, allowing you to connect with loved ones without the hassle of remembering various codes. These special codes are known as Carrier Identification Codes (CICs). They were essential for directing calls to a chosen long-distance carrier instead of automatically routing them through the default carrier set by one’s telephone service. For instance, to use a specific carrier’s service for a single call, a customer would have to dial a prefix like “10-10” followed by a three-digit code unique to that carrier—forming sequences like “10-10-333” or “10-10-222”. Each number in these sequences was a key that unlocked different gates in the vast network of telephone services, allowing the call to be handled by companies other than the one typically responsible for one’s calls.

This method of calling long distance, although effective in providing a choice, was not user-friendly. Remembering and dialing these additional numbers—often referred to as “10-XXX” or “101XXXX”—added extra steps to the process of making a long-distance call. It made the act of calling more tedious and prone to errors, as customers had to remember not just the phone number they wished to dial but also the correct sequence of codes to take advantage of better rates or services offered by competing carriers.

The need for these prefixes sprang from an era when telephone services were rigidly structured. Each call that went through a different carrier had to be explicitly directed by these codes. The situation began to change as regulations evolved to foster greater competition and ease of use for consumers. Regulators introduced what is known as “dialing parity,” a rule that allowed customers to choose their preferred long-distance carrier for all calls using a simplified dialing sequence, much like dialing local calls. This meant that instead of using cumbersome prefixes, customers could make a choice once and all their calls would automatically go through their chosen provider using just the “1-plus” format (dialing ‘1’ followed by the area code and number).

The situation led to regulatory scrutiny and demands for dialing parity, where customers could choose their preferred carrier for intraLATA calls and dial them using just the one-plus sequence, similar to interLATA (between different LATAs) and interstate calls. The shift to dialing parity marked a significant development in telecommunications. It not only simplified the calling process but also enhanced consumer choice, pushing carriers to compete more on service quality and pricing rather than on the visibility or memorability of their access codes. This regulatory evolution helped break down barriers to competition, making long-distance calling easier and potentially cheaper, as carriers vied to attract and retain customers with the most attractive offers, all accessible through a simple, uniform dialing process. Southwestern Bell, under its parent company AT&T, navigated these changes by updating its service offerings and infrastructure to comply with new regulations, ensuring customers could seamlessly connect across its vast network. As the telecommunications landscape continues to evolve, the principles of ease of access and consumer choice remain central, influencing ongoing regulatory and business strategies. The narrative of Southwestern Bell and one-plus dialing is a testament to the dynamic interplay of technology, regulation, and market forces shaping the telecommunications industry.

The evolution of telephone communication has seen remarkable changes, rendering many traditional methods and challenges obsolete. Initially, making phone calls involved careful considerations, such as determining whether a call was local or long-distance, which impacted the cost. The introduction of one-plus (1+) dialing and Carrier Identification Codes (CICs) was designed to simplify this process. One-plus dialing allowed users to initiate long-distance calls by prefixing their dial sequence with ‘1’, while CICs enabled them to choose specific carriers for their long-distance services to potentially benefit from lower rates.

However, the landscape of telecommunication underwent a seismic shift with the emergence of competitive offerings like free nights and weekends, and later, packages that included free long-distance calling. These changes were propelled by both intense market competition and rapid advancements in technology, especially the transition from traditional telephony to digital and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technologies. This shift not only eliminated the need for consumers to select different carriers based on cost considerations but also reduced the relevance of understanding the nuances between local and long-distance calls.

As technology continued to evolve and cellular phones became ubiquitous, the concept of a “home phone” began to fade, with many individuals opting for mobile phones or VoIP services instead. These modern solutions, often not provided by traditional Bell companies, offer comprehensive packages that typically include unlimited calling, thereby dissolving the traditional boundaries of telephone communication.

This transformation is poignantly illustrated by historical advertisements and radio spots produced for Southwestern Bell, promoting one-plus dialing as a method to save on long-distance charges. These marketing efforts, once crucial in a highly competitive market following the breakup of AT&T into the Baby Bells, now serve as relics of a bygone era. They reflect a time when the communication landscape was vastly different, characterized by a patchwork of regional providers and complex calling plans—a stark contrast to today’s streamlined, all-inclusive communication services. The record of these advertisements not only offers a glimpse into the past practices but also highlights the dramatic shifts in telecommunication, sparked initially by the regulatory breakup of the monolithic “Ma Bell.”

The “ONE-PLUS” radio spots for Southwestern Bell are more than just catchy jingles; they’re snapshots of a time when the way we made phone calls was undergoing a sea change. As your host, Finnley the Dolphin, I hope you’ve enjoyed this dive into the past and gained a greater appreciation for how far we’ve come in the world of telecommunications. Remember, every episode of Finnley’s Audio Adventures is an opportunity to explore the sounds of history. So, keep tuning in, and let’s keep making waves together! Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button and swim over to our website for more thrilling audio adventures. Until next time, keep your fins up and your curiosity alive!


Chadwick, Catherine. “Operator, Give Me Information.” Texas Monthly, Aug. 1985. https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/operator-give-me-information/. Accessed 23 June 2024.

Fine, Evelyn R. “Consumer After Ma Bell.” D Magazine, 1 June 1984. https://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/1984/june/consumer-after-ma-bell/. Accessed 23 June 2024.

“555 Numbers.” National Numbering Plan Administration. https://www.nationalnanpa.com/number_resource_info/555_numbers.html. Accessed 23 June 2024.

Oklahoma Government. “Parity.” 8 Feb. 1999. Oklahoma.gov, Reference: PUD2899-8. https://oklahoma.gov/content/dam/ok/en/occ/documents/ajls/news/archived-news/1999/02-08-99-parity.pdf. Accessed 23 June 2024.

Petree, Patrick K. “Parity.” 8 Feb. 1999. Oklahoma.gov, Reference: PUD2899-8. https://oklahoma.gov/content/dam/ok/en/occ/documents/ajls/news/archived-news/1999/02-08-99-parity.pdf. Accessed 23 June 2024.

Southwestern Bell Communication Services, Inc. d/b/a SBC Long Distance. P.U.C. of Texas No. 2. Assoc. Dir. Regulatory Lisa Andrejko, 5850 W. Las Positas Blvd., Pleasanton, California 94588. Original Page 148. Issued 5 Dec. 2003. Effective 12 Dec. 2003. https://interchange.puc.texas.gov/Documents/27385_2067_418747.PDF. Accessed 23 June 2024.

Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. Tariff F.C.C. No. 73. Issued 12 Mar. 2014. Effective 27 Mar. 2014. https://cpr.att.com/pdf/fcc-swbt/7306.pdf. Accessed 23 June 2024.

Vandewater, Bob. “Southwestern Bell Rivals Win Parity.” The Oklahoman, 9 Feb. 1999. https://www.oklahoman.com/story/news/1999/02/09/southwestern-bell-rivals-win-parity/62253640007/. Accessed 23 June 2024.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *